Dressing for a Renaissance faire doesn’t have to mean paying a king’s ransom for an elegant medieval costume. It’s easy and cheap to get into the fun by going as one of the most common people of the time – a peasant. By assuming the role of a peasant and creating a peasant costume, you don’t have to worry about adding elaborate details to clothing. Peasants were poor. They were more worried putting a meager amount of food in their mouths than impressing anyone with finery. They also were workers and may have owned only one set of clothing. Naturally, your peasant costume should show some wear and tear.
When choosing fabrics for your peasant costume, remember the year. You are representing a person of about the 16th century. Choose natural fabrics, preferably with a coarse or nubby texture. Avoid anything silky, shiny, stretchy, velvety, glittery, sheer or delicate. Peasants wove their own fabric. Appropriate material includes linen, cotton, wool and other similar fabrics. Animal hides also were used for clothing and accessories.
Select natural colors of the earth for your peasant costume. After weaving their fabric, peasants dyed it with colors made from plants and vegetables that usually produced muted shades. Don’t worry about matching colors. Mismatched is better. In addition to avoiding obviously inappropriate neon colors, also stay away from black and deep purple. These colors are much too royal-looking.
With a few alterations, some of today’s ready-made clothing can be used as part of your peasant costume. Peasant blouses for women and lounge pants for men are good examples. Just be sure to choose a plain fabric and remove any inappropriate embellishments.
A MAN’S PEASANT COSTUME
A peasant man would wear a long-sleeved, loose shirt that pulls over his head. A very basic shirt can be made by cutting two pieces of fabric in a T-shape wide enough to loosely go around your trunk and arms, and extending almost to the wrists. Cut a hole for your head. Don’t worry about finishing the edges; simply leave them raveled.
Around his waist, a peasant man might have a belt made of a strip of leather or a rope. To this, he would tie small tools that he might use during his work day. Also attached to the belt would be a small pouch for carrying items.
He also would wear a vest. Use a ready-made vest as a pattern for the front and back, then punch holes down the front and lace up the vest with cord to keep it closed.
Today’s popular lounge pants are perfect peasant pants. Choose a plain color, then cut off the legs at the shin and leave the edges tattered.
If a peasant man was lucky enough to have shoes, they would be simple, leather slip-ons. Stockings might have been a luxury, but if he had them, they would be cloth knee socks. Because these are going to be hard to find, you may be better off skipping the socks altogether.
A simple peasant hat can be made by sewing a circle of fabric around a headband. Cut the headband about four inches wide and a comfortable length to fit around your head. Fold the band in half lengthwise. Cut a circle from fabric that when placed on top of your head extends to about your eyes and the middle of your ears. Gather the circle to fit the headband and sew it to the long, unfinished edge of the headband.
A WOMAN’S PEASANT COSTUME
A peasant woman also would wear a long sleeved, loose blouse and a vest. Unlike a man’s vest, the woman’s vest should be very tight-fitting around the waist. Make the vest in the same way as described for a man, but cinch the cords tight at the waist and leave them looser on top. The blouse typically was low-cut. Wear a push-up bra under your costume. Women of the Renaissance were not shy about showing cleavage.
A peasant woman always wore two skirts, with the top skirt often a few inches shorter than the bottom one. Make a simple skirt by cutting a piece of fabric that extends from a few inches above your waist to the floor, and nearly twice as wide as your hip measurement. Fold over and sew the top of the skirt and gather with elastic or cord. The bottom can be hemmed by hand or left raw.
Over her skirts, a peasant woman would wear an apron. Cut a square of fabric as wide as the front of your skirt and a little shorter than the skirt. Cut a waistband about four inches wide and long enough to tie around your waist and hang down the back. Fold the waistband in half lengthwise and attach the square of fabric to the front of the waistband.
Grown women always wore a head covering. You could construct a hat as described for a peasant man, or simply tie a kerchief around your head.
Follow the same guidelines for footwear as described for a peasant man.